Margaret Thomas, "Fifty Key Thinkers on Language and Linguistics" (Routledge, 2011)


In the preface to Fifty Key Thinkers on Language and Linguistics (Routledge, 2011), devoted to short but attentively researched biographical sketches of major figures in the language sciences, Margaret Thomas compares the task of compiling it with that of organising a party. Here, the enterprise has been successful - the guests are interesting (as you might expect), but they are also presented to their best advantage, and the host succeeds in establishing connections between them, so that no-one is left out. Also, it proceeds at an agreeably fast pace and ends promptly before anyone can make a scene. We develop this analogy a little further over the course of the interview, but we do also talk about the book in its own right. We discuss the question of whether or not Chomskyan linguistics is, or should be, related to the earlier history of the discipline, and consider the effect of 20th century American linguistics on the historiography of the subject. And we touch upon some of the figures outside the mainstream Western tradition whose influences haven't always been widely felt, but whose contribution to the study of language is nonetheless remarkable.

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Chris Cummins

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